John Lee Hooker
(August 22, 1917 – June 21, 2001)
Hooker began his life as the son of sharecropper and preacher, William Hooker, and rose to prominence performing his own unique style of what was originally a unique brand of country blues. After his parents divorced, his mother married William Moore, a blues singer who provided Hooker with his first introduction to the guitar (and whom John would later credit for his distinctive playing style). John's stepfather was his first outstanding blues influence. Moore was a local blues guitarist who learned in Shreveport, Louisiana to play a droning, one-chord blues that was strikingly different from the Delta blues of the time. Throughout the 1930s, Hooker lived in Memphis, Tennessee where he worked on Beale Street at The New Daisy Theatre and occasionally performed at house parties. He worked in factories in various cities during World War II, drifting until he found himself in Detroit in 1948 working at Ford Motor Company. He felt right at home near the blues venues and saloons on Hastings Street, the heart of black entertainment on Detroit's east side. In a city noted for its pianists, guitar players were scarce. Performing in Detroit clubs, his popularity grew quickly and, seeking a louder instrument than his crude acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar. Hooker's recording career began in 1948 when his agent placed a demo, made by Hooker, with the Bihari brothers, owners of the Modern Records label. The company initially released an up-tempo number, "Boogie Chillen’," which became Hooker's first hit single. Despite being illiterate, Hooker was a prolific lyricist. In addition to adapting the occasionally traditional blues lyric (such as "if I was chief of police, I would run her right out of town"), he freely invented many of his songs from scratch. He maintained a solo career, popular with blues and folk music fans of the early 1960s and crossed over to white audiences, giving an early opportunity to the young Bob Dylan. As he got older, he added more and more people to his band, changing his live show from simply Hooker with his guitar to a large band, with Hooker singing. His vocal phrasing was less closely tied to specific bars than most blues singers. This casual, rambling style had been gradually diminishing with the onset of electric blues bands from Chicago but, even when not playing solo, Hooker retained it in his sound. Hooker recorded over 100 albums. He fell ill just before a tour of Europe in 2001 and died on June 21 at the age of 83, two months before his 84th birthday.